An even better Fit for Honda

Published 10:51 am Thursday, February 19, 2009

Honda could not have better timing for the all-new Fit. While many manufacturers are launching new versions of high profit full-size trucks and crossovers, Honda is rolling out an improved version of a small economy car. The Honda Fit is certainly not as profitable as the big trucks, but it appears to be exactly what buyers have in mind considering the high fuel prices.

The old Fit was already impressive, but changes to the 2009 Fit take the five-door hatchback to a new level with some stylish new lines and larger windshield to set it apart from its predecessor. The super cab-forward design helps create roomier interior that makes the Fit feel much larger inside than the exterior size would indicate. With the rear seats in place, the cargo space is a generous 20.6 cubic feet. Flip the single lever for the Magic Seat® and the rear seat back drops in one smooth motion expanding the cargo space to a massive 57.3 cubic feet. Not bad for a car just four inches longer than the new Mini Clubman.

Overall performance improves thanks to a new 1.5-liter SOHC i-VTEC engine. With 117 hp, up from the 109 hp of the previous version, the Fit is no anemic economy car. We enjoyed driving the new Fit Sport, between its agile handling and respectable 8.3-second 0 to 60 mph acceleration, the car feels sporty and not at all like a frumpy economy car. Normally we’d prefer a manual transmission for this type of car, but our Fit Sport was equipped with the optional five-speed automatic transmission with steering-wheel mounted shift paddles. The manual shifting system is not as quick as some of the new performance car shifters, but it provides good manual control that enhances the sporty feel and even has a bit better fuel economy than the manual transmission.

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This engine and transmission combination gets an EPA rating of 27 mpg city and 33 mpg highway. Our combined average was 31.4 mpg. With Barbara alone behind the wheel, it would probably make 35 or 36 mpg.

Like all Hondas, the Fit gets a long list of standard equipment including premium sound system, tilt and telescoping steering wheel, six airbags and anti-lock brakes with Electronic Brake Distribution. The Sport adds 16-inch alloy wheels and wider tires plus an alarm, fog lights, cruise control and some cosmetic upgrades. A DVD navigation system is available on the Sport for $1,850 and includes Vehicle Stability Assist (VSA). The Honda navigation is about the most user-friendly system we’ve found. We would prefer to see the VSA as standard equipment on all the models, but at least it is available.

Prices fit nearly any budget starting as low as $15,220 for the base model with manual transmission. The automatic transmission adds $800. The upper-level Sport with automatic is $17,580 and $19,430 with the navigation system and VSA. A full-equipped Fit starts pushing the bounds of the economy car price range, but it has a premium feel that is well worth a little extra.

Don’t be put off by the demur size of this Honda. When you are inside it feels roomy and quite comfortable. The Fit has a well-deserved reputation for being fun-to-drive, but engineers have been careful to balance that sporty nature with ride comfort. The compromise results in some body roll in the tighter corners, but eliminates most of the choppiness of rough roads. Overall, it is the kind of car that puts a smile on your face when you drive it.